Congressional Outlook: Energy Policy in 2019
As Congress refocuses on its work following the partial government shutdown and yesterday’s State of the Union address, leaders in both chambers have laid out their priorities around energy policy for the session and are starting to hold a flurry of hearings.
The Democratic-controlled House is putting climate change front and center, with intraparty debates on display in a series of committee hearings this week. Key Republican Senate leaders, meanwhile, spoke of reaching across the aisle on energy issues.
Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who retained his gavel as chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, unveiled what he expects to be his committee’s focus on “passing bipartisan legislation to: improve America’s highway infrastructure; protect and manage wildlife; and to support innovative technologies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.”
Barrasso also highlighted previous bipartisan legislation he’s championed and signaled his intent to continue efforts to work with Democrats.
“Last Congress, working closely with Ranking Member [Tom] Carper [D-Del.], and all of the committee members, we wrote and passed major legislation into law,“ Barrasso said. He cited several examples, including the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act, America’s Water Infrastructure Act, and the Utilizing Significant Emissions with Innovative Technologies Act, which addresses carbon emissions.
“I look forward to continuing to work together to advance this legislation to reduce emissions… This Congress, our committee will build on that momentum,” Barrasso said.
On tap for this year will be a highway bill to update infrastructure and a focus on conservation and wildlife protection.
Barrasso pointed out several executive agency nominations before the committee. This week the pending nomination of Andrew Wheeler as permanent head of the Environmental Protection Agency was approved by the committee on a party-line vote, 11-10. The vote will go to the full Senate for final approval.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) will again serve as chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) replacing Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) as ranking member. Given Manchin’s record on energy policies, the pair are expected to work closely on energy development.
“Keep in mind that while I come from a producing state. I am also from a state that is seeing the most immediate impact from warming,” Murkowski said. “I can’t be in a position where we just ignore the issue and pretend that it just goes away,” Murkowski said.
Manchin has said he hopes to highlight the energy contributions made by West Virginia and other states in the region from both the coal and growing natural gas industries.
“The beauty about it is this: Lisa comes from Alaska, I come from West Virginia. Two heavy-lifting states, two heavy-producing states for the energy this country needs,” he told attendees of the West Virginia Independent Oil and Gas Association winter meeting last month in Charleston. “With that being said, we can set an agenda that basically shows them what we’re doing.”
In line with the recent shift, the committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on Thursday to examine the status and outlook for energy innovation. The “Full Committee Hearing to Examine the Status and Outlook of Energy Innovation in the United States” will feature testimonies from former Secretary of Energy under the Obama Administration Ernest Moniz and current Department of Energy Undersecretary for Science Paul Dabbar.
Though no date has been set, another high-profile confirmation hearing in Murkowski’s committee looms as David Bernhardt, deputy chief of the Interior Department, was recently nominated by President Trump to succeed Ryan Zinke as Interior Secretary.
In the House, Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) addressed the issue of climate change in her opening address after being sworn in as Speaker last month, charging a new Select Committee on Climate Crisis to come up with policy ideas that address the issue.
Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who now chairs the Natural Resources Committee, supported a select committee but expressed doubt about its ultimate effectiveness.
“The resolution is a wonderful statement of urgency, you’ve got to take this seriously and you’ve only got 10 years to do it,” he said in an interview. “I understand that. I don’t have a problem with that. What I have a problem with is the mechanisms of how you’re going to get this done.”
Ultimately, the Select Committee on Climate Crisis will have neither subpoena or legislative powers. The committee has yet to name its members.
Several House committees are firming up a packed schedule on climate. The House Natural Resources Committee and Energy and Commerce Committee both held hearings on the Hill Wednesday on climate change. Ways and Means Committee chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) has announced plans to hold hearings on climate issues as well, pertaining to carbon pricing.
Most of the climate change conversation on the House side has circled around the “Green New Deal,” first promoted by the Sunrise Movement and championed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) are working together to draft legislation. Details on the “Green New Deal” are emerging as the bill is expected to be unveiled this week. According to Bloomberg, the draft calls for 100 percent power from “clean, renewable and zero emission energy sources,” energy efficiency upgrades for buildings, an “overhaul” of the nation’s transportation system that eliminates emissions and pollution, a growth in clean manufacturing, and “guaranteed jobs, health care, and housing.“ The bill stops short of banning fossil fuels, as some have advocated for.
The issue of climate change is not foreign to the two Democrats leading the charge. Markey was co-author of the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade legislation, which passed in the House in 2009 but ultimately failed in the Senate. Ocasio-Cortez is the highest profile member of a new crop of House progressives who ran their campaigns on evolving environmental policy.